Dancing at the Edge of the Abyss
At the bottom of the sea there is a very calm area of water, in the shadow of an enormous rock. Only algae grows here, great thick slimy strands of it, because not even plants- other than algae, of course- are stupid enough to come near. The taint of evil that fills this place touches on an ancient, primal terror, so that even the Owners, who are pink and strange, find themselves standing a wary distance away as they snap photos. Even the boldest and stupidest of the lot have never floated closer to get a better angle.
They do not know that the thing they instinctively avoid is the infectious touch of a fate worse than death.
Jhudora felt sand scrunching between her toes, and grimaced in distaste.
She loathed being barefoot. She loathed a lot of things, actually. Butternut squash. Anything that looked like it had been forcibly medicated. The sound of cheerful bells ringing in the start of a new morning.
Right now, what she really, really loathed was Mystery Island (and Illusen, but that really went without saying), and its hot, sticky climate, which really wasn’t a climate at all, just a seething heat. Jhudora was used to Faerieland, where a protective layer of clouds kept the temperature just slightly below warm. She wasn’t used to having sweat stick her clothing to her skin like glue, or to sunlight so bright she had to squint.
Oh well. It wasn’t going to take long, anyway.
Ayaele was a young air faerie. Not very young, mind you. She hadn’t been bottled in ages, had quite outgrown that stage. And she was far too polite to admit that she was actually quite good at air spells, or at least she only told people if they asked.
They asked mostly because Ayaele tended to steer all conversations towards the only topic that interested her, which happened to be herself.
She was not, as a matter of fact, an arrogant little snot, although one would not be blamed for thinking her on the fast track to becoming one. She had a good heart, and a good brain, and if she was a trifle too self-centered, it was only a stage she would grow out of someday. She was a teenage faerie, after all.
The problem was, Ayaele was smart, and talented, and had lived a very sheltered life in which she had never been faced with a problem she couldn’t handle, which had led her to make the rather faulty assumption that she was therefore capable of handling all problems.
This was about to change.
Jhudora was a naturally impatient person. That is, she had enormous reservoirs of inner fortitude and perseverance, but she rarely bothered to call upon them, because she grew much less irritated if she used the quickest way to get what she wanted.
In this case, that involved the faerie she was currently pressing against a tree.
“Hello, sweetie,” she said, and gave her best impression of Illusen’s horrible little smiles, only because the situation seemed to call for a horrible little smile.
“Saying Hello back would be an appropriate response.”
“H-Hello,” the faerie said, eyes wide with terror.
“That’s a good start. See, this is very simple. I ask, you answer, other than that you don’t do anything unless I tell you to. That way, we all get along, which is so much better than the alternative.”
Jhudora could see the obvious question in the faerie’s horrified eyes, along with the complete lack of willingness to ask it.
“I think you are perfectly capable of imagining it, dear. Now, do tell me- I can see from your clothes that you’re an air faerie. Would you happen to know the way down to Maraqua? A simple nod or shake of the head will suffice.”
The faerie gave a single, petrified bob of the head before passing out.
Jhudora slapped her awake. “I don’t think I gave you permission to faint on me, did I? Do you know how to do the oxygen orb spell?”
“I-I learned it, but I never really used it except in a classroom, with a teacher watching...”
Jhudora leaned her head back, hands still rested firmly on the faerie’s shoulders. “Have you, now. That is interesting. A clever idea, having a teacher present, since making a mistake with that spell can cause your bones to spontaneously combust unless a skilled medic is there to perform the rather complicated counter-spell. Thank you, that’s all I needed to know.”
“C-can I go now?” The faerie’s voice was a hopeful whisper, as her vocal cords seemed to have died sometime earlier in the proceedings.
“Don’t be ridiculous. I need you to bring me to Maraqua inside a bubble of air, so that I stay dry and don’t have to hold my breath the whole way. Needless to say, if you mess up, spontaneous combustion of important body parts will be the least of your problems.”
The faerie fainted again.
It was two long, frustrating hours later that Jhudora finally arrived in the rebuilt city of Maraqua. She let the faerie go, after placing the rather useful bubble charm inside an easy to use amulet. (She did not, however, remove the curse that she had quietly placed on the faerie. She was a dark faerie, after all. It didn’t do to go soft.)
No one noticed her, because she did not particularly want to be noticed. Crowds parted before her without realizing what exactly it was that they were doing. There were perks to being a member of the very small, exclusive circle that contained Neopia’s most powerful faeries, and they weren’t limited to the fact that she had pets running around doing her errands for her.
In a short space of time she had left the noise and bustle of the underwater city behind her, and she thought that it was really rather impressive how suddenly it went from noisy to eerily quiet.
She liked the quiet, and the odd, airy feeling inside her skull that calm brought.
And there was the statue, up ahead. It really was quite ugly, Jhudora thought. The fashions that the Darkness Faerie had followed were ancient now and looked ridiculous set in stone. Her pose was not a pretty one, either- Her rather pretty face was disfigured by a rather less fetching snarl, and her pose suggested a struggling body, which was in fact what it was.
With a start, Jhudora realized she was not alone.
“Your majesty! I didn’t see you there.”
“I should hope not, as I had a rather powerful Invisibility on,” Fyora said, calmly. “Might I ask what you are doing here, Jhudora?”
“I... came down here,” she said, lamely. “Um... It’s something I do. Occasionally.”
Fyora was looking at her in a very special Fyora way, a certain subtle slant to the eyebrows that reminded whoever it was directed at that Fyora did not actually have infinite patience, she was just very good at pretending.
“It reminds me,” she said slowly.
“Of... Things. That power isn’t everything.” And that wasn’t true, she thought, because if the Darkest Faerie had been more powerful she wouldn’t be down here. But it was almost true, because no one was ever powerful enough to be protected from everything, and so it was better to be a little weaker and gain something else in return. A guarantee.
Fyora was regarding her, carefully.
“And also,” she admitted, “it reminds me that I could end up here too, someday. That anyone could, really. It helps me put things in perspective.”
“That’s... fascinating,” Fyora said. “I find it amusing to imagine how she would feel, knowing she inspired that sort of thinking.”
“No,” Fyora said, and she was no longer facing Jhudora, instead contemplating the statue with an unidentifiable expression written plainly across her face. “No, I think she’d find it hilarious.”
“We were good friends, you know, once upon a time. She made me laugh. It didn’t last, though.”
In the endless awkward moment that stretched on after that sentence, Jhudora hesitantly said, “Altador was-”
“Don’t be dense, Jhudora. Altador was only ever a part of it. She was the Darkest Faerie, after all. She wouldn’t have dreamed of limiting herself to one little city. It was just where it started, that’s all, and where it ended.”
Her lips twisted upwards.
“I haven’t been able to stop watching my back, ever since.”
She waved her hands, in a languid sort of motion, and disappeared with a small pop, leaving Jhudora alone with a rapidly running out amateur bubble charm.
By the time she got back to her cloud, she was very wet and irritable indeed.